Earlier this year we posted our MBM report of what a hypothetical Premier League All-Star game would look like. We’re breaking it out again today before the MLS All-Star game tonight.
Preamble: Managers hate it, with Arsene Wenger, who you’ll recall has some pretty strong negative feelings towards international friendlies as well, calling it last year, “the worst idea in 120 years of league football,” and refusing to allow his Arsenal players to take part, a decision which saw him receive a four-game touchline ban, one for each player he kept out. Fans loathe it as a sign of the increasing intrusion of the new class of American owners into the game, a valid point, since it certainly seems like they’re taking the worst ideas from The players…well, if Twitter is anything to go by, the players are just really excited about all the tech bobbles and jewelry bits in the gift bags they’re receiving for playing in the game.
So at least one group is happy about the Barclays Premier League all-star game. I, on the other hand certainly am not, as I’ve drawn the short straw to do the MBM on this travesty, despite my best efforts at pointing out that the fewer people watch it/follow it/pretend to care about it, the sooner it will go away. Ohh well. Your teams, which were selected nearly a month ago, are coming up, but first a quick geography lesson.
NORTH – Newcastle, Sunderland, Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan, City, United, Everton, Liverpool and Stoke. The North are managed, somewhat pointlessly, by Fabio Capello.
SOUTH – Norwich, Wolverhampton, West Brom, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Arsenal, Swansea, QPR, Chelsea, Fulham. The South are managed by Guus Hiddink.
Here are the line-ups, both a nice mix of “Having a good season” and “Hasn’t been good for two years, but has plenty of name recognition.” Luis Suarez remains on the substitute’s bench for the North side, probably because they couldn’t find a replacement for him on such short notice.
NORTH (4-4-2): Krul; Evra, Kompany, Cahill!?, Richards; Silva, Adam, Toure, Nani; Rooney, Aguero. SUBS: Hart, Reina; Baines, Samba, Jones, Johnson, Tiote, Delap, Larsson, Rodallega (?!), Suarez, Ba
Sky is reporting that Robin van Persie, who was voted to start this game for the South team, has not turned up at Wembley today. If their commentary is to be believed, no one has any idea where he is. Walcott will start in his place
SOUTH (4-4-2): Vorm; Cole, Terry, Vermaelen, Walker; Mata, Modric, Song, Dempsey; Walcott, Adebayor. SUBS: Szczesny, Friedel; Bale (Yes, as a left back), Olsson, Hangeland, Luke Young; Hunt, Lampard, Parker; Agbonlahor; Holt, Van Persie.
Fun facts/assorted observations about the lineups:
Dempsey: Proving Americans will vote for anything, as long as you don’t force them to leave the house to do so.
Rodallega: Still apparently the token Wigan player.
Cahill: I suppose they had to choose someone from Bolton, but how on Earth did he get the start?
Song: Count me a fan, but it’s interesting that his vote total doubled the day after that assist to Robin van Persie, which happened to be the deadline for online voting for players.
With the 4-4-2 imposed on them, it’s impressive how closely the two squads resemble one another, particularly if you consider that van Persie should be in for Walcott. They’ve got the Dutch goalkeeper, the surprising English center-half inclusion, left back who’s seen better days, playmaking Spanish midfielder, and Manchester City striker.
It’s kickoff time here at Wembley, but the game has already been delayed, as Arsene Wenger has taken it upon himself to bring the farce to a stop by chaining himself into the center of one of the goals. He looks as though he’s doing his best Jacob Marley impression. I’m told he’s shut them up with a heavy padlock and has just swallowed the key. We’ll get to some of your emails while Richard Scudamore frantically Googles “blowtorch near Wembley Stadium.”
As everyone and their mother has pointed out via email, Vidic was the highest vote getter, despite being injured two months ago. Capello chose Cahill to replace him, because he’s apparently a prodigious suck-up. Congratulations Shannon Brownwhitte of Shrivenham for being the ninth e-mailer. You’ve won a prize.
Never mind then, the majority of the emails seem to be asking for an explanation of the selection process, so here’s a reminder. The fans voted on each team’s starting XI, putting the players into a 4-4-2, along with the first three substitutes. Managers and players voted on the next seven, but since each team is required to have at least one representative, that meant the managers and players ended up picking who their favorite players from, among others, Wigan, Bolton, QPR and Swansea. Then the fans voted online for the last player, only somehow, no one realized that absolutely no one had been selected from Blackburn, so the All-Star committee threw out the fan’s vote and picked Christopher Samba over Yakubu, ostensibly because the North already had plenty of forwards on its roster. So Samba is essentially nobody’s All-Star, but per tradition, he’ll probably get at least a little bit of time at the end, since everyone in this game does.
Sound effects: We’re off. They’ve cut Wenger down and led him off in his own chains. Vorm takes his place in that goal, and now we’re off.
3 min: Nani feints in before cutting back outside of Ashley Cole and putting in a peach of a cross that Vorm does well to come out and claim. Tough to tell whether Cole is demonstrating for us how lax we can expect the defending to be this game or just performing as he’s done all season.
7 min: Absolutely end-to-end so far, with absolutely nothing happening at either end. First Mata plays Walcott through on goal from the halfway line, but Krul beats him to the pass just outside the area and clears it clear out of Wembley. Then Silva sets up Rooney, who apparently sent his shot off into the stands with a keg of brandy around its neck in search of the ball Krul hit.
10 min: I’ve been neglecting my Twitter, but luckily one of my colleagues just directed me to it in time to capture this from the feed of a certain missing striker: “@Persie_Official Help! I’m trapped in the boot of the gaffer’s car.” The plot thickens.
12 min: Half of the players appear to be going at half-speed, while roughly a third are going at three-quarters-speed, and a twelfth at just a notch or two underneath full power. Then there’s Emmanuel Adebayor, who’s going at no speed at all.
14 min: Don’t worry, there’s not been a shot since Rooney’s. This game’s more disjointed than Martin Riggs’ shoulder.
GOAL!: North 1 South 0 (Silva 15 mins)
15 min: Well, I take that back. Silva, who’s been playing behind the forwards more than on the left side, exchanges a pair of one-twos with Aguero to get round Song then Terry before chipping it over an onrushing Vorm, off the left post, and in.
17 min: That goal has livened the game up considerably, with the South getting a pair of chances in quick succession. First Walcott squares the ball for Dempsey after one of his “Look how fast I am” 40-yard runs down the right flank. The American’s shot is unlucky to deflect off Cahill and into Krul’s arms. Then Modric turns by Yaya Toure, advances, and lets fly from 30 yards. It hits right where post and crossbar intersect and bounces to Evra, who clears.
GOAL!: North 2 South 0 (Terry o.g. 21 mins)
21 min: It’s beyond comic. North have a corner kick, and as Silva moves to take Terry goes down while jostling with Kompany at the near post. The ball finds Cahill, whose strong header goes straight down and wide before it deflects off Terry’s face and into the net. Terry’s simultaneously calling for a foul and rubbing his nose. It’s football’s most GIF-able moment since the Zidane headbutt. I can’t wait for someone to run it in super slow motion.
24 min: It’s all North at the moment. Adam’s long pass to Nani on the right is cut out by Cole, who gives it immediately for Toure, who sends it across the field for Silva to deflect back into Rooney at the corner of the box. The shot goes just wide.
GOAL!: North 2 South 1 (Dempsey, 26 mins)
26 min: The South strike back! Modric plays out of pressure to Mata on the left side. He dinks a cross over Cahill to Adebayor, who flicks on towards the far post where an onrushing Dempsey dives to meet it and drive it in. I think that went off his face too, but at least he hit it into the right goal.
30 min: Here’s John Thatcher from Bromley: “That own goal was another wonderful moment in karma’s campaign against John Terry, but I wonder what he’s due for next? Accidentally injuring Daniel Sturridge in training? Sinking Roman Abramovich’s yacht?” Maybe Mario Balotelli will set his house on fire with fireworks.
32 min: Vorm stops a thumping volley from Rooney and falls on it just before Aguero gets to it. Rooney has one in him yet, methinks.
36 min: No new tweets from @Persie_Official. Hope Arsene remembered to drill him a couple of air holes.
38 min: Our first card of the day, as Song overturns Adam after the Liverpool man had just beaten him to a ball and gets a yellow for his trouble. He seems somewhat ashamed by it, pausing over Adam to help him up and dust his back off. That’s the first even somewhat meaty challenge we’ve seen so far. Arsene will be happy, however, as it almost certainly means Song’s going to come off at the half.
41 min: I’d be curious to see what Adebayor’s distance covered looks like for this half. I’m guessing just over one kilometer. Surely Hiddink will go to Holt or one of his other strikers.
44 min: Off the crossbar! And the post! Walcott makes a good diagonal run onto a Modric pass near the penalty spot, but his shot is tipped by Krul into the crossbar. The ball bounces as it deflects out, and Dempsey meets it with an overhead kick that thunders off the post. It’s a wonder the goal’s still standing after those. One minute of stoppage time indicated.
Various assorted whistle noises! The half comes to a close at with the North barely clinging to their one goal lead.
Half-time: It’s a good thing the organizers abandoned the Britain vs. the World format they used last year, because all the chances have come off the heads and feet of the foreigners, unless you count John Terry’s Face. Walcott’s been far and away the best Englishman in the game, and he’s only starting because his teammate apparently got locked in the boot.
The only question worth answering this halftime comes from Daniel Brecker, of Stoke: “Why on earth is this farce allowed to go on?” I don’t know, Daniel. I don’t know.
Your half-time substitutions: Szczesny and Hart replace Vorm and Krul, respectively. For the North, Suarez comes in for Aguero, Larsson for Nani and Baines for Evra. For the South, Parker is in for Song, Agbonlahor for Walcott, and Holt for Adebayor, though I may just pretend it was the other way around because it’s fun to say that Agbonlahor is on for Adebayor
Various assorted whistle noises, followed by an incongruous air horn! The South kick off, and ohh crap.
GOAL!!! North 2 South 2 (Holt 46 mins)
46 min: The South punt the ball long deep down the left flank. Richards makes a meal of it, miscontrolling it on the bounce just as Agbonlahor arrives to swipe it away from him. A simple chip into the box is met by the onrushing Holt, who uses his full head of steam to power it home. Richards has a look on his face like the coyote after another attempt has been thwarted by the Roadrunner. Shh, Micah. If you laugh it off, everyone will think that you just couldn’t be bothered to try.
47 min: Fabio Capello apparently also just realized he had left Richards on past the half, and has substituted him for Glen Johnson, meaning all is right in his own personal world again.
GOAL!!! North 2 South 3 (Vermaelen, 48 mins)
48 min: Except not really for Don Fabio, as his North side have just given up two in two minutes. Once again it was Holt who made it, holding off Kompany after a pass in from Parker then laying the ball off. Modric dummies to distract an onrushing Johnson, and a hard-charging Vermaelen catches it and lashes his shot into the corner. What will Capello do now? How will his North team react? Does anyone really care?
51 min: Szczesny at least proves that he’s trying, even though his defense isn’t. Baines has no trouble traversing the whole left flank with the ball at his feet. He hits it early into Suarez, who uses two touches to go around two defenders before eliciting a full stretch diving stop out of the Pole.
GOAL!!! North 3 South 3 (Rooney 53 mins) AND RED CARD!!!
53 min: Rooney has scored and been sent off for celebration, where he ran into the corner, bent over as though to tie his laces, and dropped trou! The goal was a beauty, a pass in from Silva, he feinted left and switched the ball back to his right before dropping a curler from about 16 yards out into the upper corner. After that, he eschewed the North players trying to mob him, went to the corner, pulled his pants down and mooned the crowd. He paused with his hands on his hips for a moment there, as if deciding whether or not to go through with that. A cheeky celebration that, and it’s gotten him thrown out. I look forward to reading what I’m sure will be approximately a bazillion words written about this.
55 min: Capello and Hiddink have both reacted to the red card by emptying their benches, with the exception of the never-used third goalkeeper. Dempsey stays on for the South along with their subs since there’s still no word from Van Persie, while Christopher Samba is the unlucky one left waiting for his minutes for the North, with Tiote sliding in at centerback in a 4-3-2.
57 min: Samuel Taylor from Houston has a question via the emails: “So if Rooney is banned from a ceremonial match, does he serve that at the next ceremonial game?” I don’t really know. If anyone else were here, I’d tell them to get on it, but alas, they’re all out not watching this game.
60 min: The lower table all-star game happening out on the field now doesn’t have any more pep than the one with the starters did. There are occasional moments of brilliance, most attributable to the fact that a free-kick cutout wall would play more defense than any of the midfielders and most of the defenders are doing.
62 min: There’s applause coming from the area around the tunnel now, and the cameras have just caught a close-up of Robin van Persie emerging with both hands bandaged. Word coming into the press box is he broke fingers on both his hands pounding on the boot he was locked in trying to make someone realize he was trapped. Van Persie is also claiming to have seen God in that trunk. No word on whether that’s been verified or not. If he’s actually planning to play, then football may as well just stop now.
GOAL!!! North 4 South 3 (Ba 67 mins)
67 min: I take back everything I didn’t get around to saying before, where I had planned to mercilessly poke fun at the selection of Delap. He’s done it here in exactly the fashion you would expect, finding a free Ba right at the penalty spot. Not sure who Hangeland was marking, there’s no one within five yards of him, while the North’s best header of the ball went free and made no mistake.
68 min: Well, that does it. Dempsey is taken off for van Persie, with Agbonlahor sliding over to the right side.
70 min: The ball is cleared to Tiote, whose clearance is picked up by Olsson and sent flying back down the other way. Lather, rinse, repeat.
73 min: “The way I see it there are three options,” says Fred Viesel from Frankfurt. “Rooney could miss this tie next year, or whichever one he gets nominated for next, or he could miss the Community Shield final next year if United make it, since that’s pretty much an exhibition anyway or their next match against Bolton, for the same reasons as before.” Hey now.
75 min: Samba on for Tiote. Who had over 14 minutes of playing time for nobody’s all-star? Congratulations, you’ve won a prize.
77 min: It’s Scott Parker vs. the World at Wembley. By my count he just parried three straight attacks from the North, intercepting a through ball destined for Rodallega, dispossessing Delap, then beating Demba Ba to an aerial challenge. As Apollo Creed might say, “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show. He thinks it’s a damn fight.”
80 min: South is really taking it to the North at this point, helped by their man advantage and the fact that they have Lampard and Parker going up against Delap and whoever else the North bothers to try and throw in the way.
81 min: Lampard plays a chipped ball behind the line to an onrushing van Persie, who volleys just wide.
83 min: That’s two close shots from van Persie from in two minutes; this one coming after he turns Jones. Might he make the difference here again.
87 min: PENALTY!! and RED CARD Van Persie is down injured after a horror challenge from Christopher Samba. The last man in is now the second player to be thrown out of the game, and Van Persie is writhing on the ground in absolute agony. The ball bounced to Van Persie, did a neat little flick to get it over the Blackburn man. Samba however, misjudged the tackle, slipped, and crashed right into the Dutchman’s knee. On the replays, you can actually see it buckle backwards. RvP won’t be walking off the pitch tonight, or for a long time from the looks of it, though Samba has been given his marching orders, more for being clumsy than anything else. Even worse, the South have already used every field player on their bench, meaning it’s Brad Friedel of all people taking van Persie’s place.
88 min: CHRIS SAMBA HAS BEEN ATTACKED IN THE TUNNEL! As the Blackburn man steps off the field, a security guard dressed in a comically oversized mustache and Afro stepped up to him and caught him with a solid right cross. The big defender stumbled, and his assailant wasted no time in hitting him with a full-bodied tackle, before wrapping his hands around his neck. Security personnel have rushed over and pulled the man off, and as they did so the fake hair and wig came off and it was ARSENE WENGER! They hit him with a stun gun, and are now dragging him down the tunnel by his hands and ankles while Samba follows, tending to a broken nose. And the South side still have a penalty to take.
89 min: PENALTY MISS!! The sham game grows more shambolic and it’s the shameful Frank Lampard who is to blame. Capello didn’t even bother to designate a penalty taker, so the South men were forced to rock-paper-scissors to see who it would be and the Englishman won, I believe with paper. But he skies his penalty, if not quite into Row Zed, then at least to somewhere between T and V.
90+2min: The South are sending every man forward, apparently forgetting that this game doesn’t matter. The North are content to punt it long and into the stands as often as possible.
GOAL! North 4 South 4 (Friedel 90+4 min)
90+4 min: And the equalizer comes off of Friedel’s gleaming dome. The South earned a corner after Suarez did well to slide in and take the ball of Agbonlahor just as he was cutting in from the touchline. On the resulting corner the South’s man advantage allowed them to find an open Friedel rushing on to the back post, his man successfully screened by Olsson. It was a fairly simple goal, except for the fact that it was scored by a 40-year-old goalkeeper playing as a forward.
Peep! Peep! And that’s the end. The All-Star Game has finished in a tie, which I’m not sure has ever happened before. Wenger got four games for his antics last year, I wonder if he’ll be back at all this season.